Jack Munro hits a forehand.
Jack Munro competing for the Chicago Slice at MLP D.C. Major League Pickleball

MLP Mid-Season Tournament preview: Challenger edition

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Each one of Major League Pickleball’s ten Challenger Level teams will be in action this week at the Advil Targeted Relief MLP Mid-Season Tournament in Grand Rapids, MI.

Play begins Wednesday at Belknap Park and will run through Sunday in conjunction with the Beer City Open.

The results of this tournament do not have any impact on the playoff standings, but there are certainly financial incentives for teams to perform their best.

There is a $60,000 prize pool for the Challenger bracket ($140,000 for Premier), with the payouts structured as follows:

  •                      1st place: $30,000
  •                      2nd place: $20,000
  •                      3rd place: $10,000

This is the only event of the year where every Challenger team will be competing at the same event.

Let’s take a look at each team’s roster going into the event:

As you can see, there are several players filling in temporarily for this event. All the details on those substitutions, and their implications, can be found here.

Setting the Stage

Teams were seeded based on standings points earned per match, with match win percentage used as the first tiebreaker.

Let’s take a look at the bracket:

The Advil Targeted Relief MLP Mid-Season Tournament Challenger bracket.
The Advil Targeted Relief MLP Mid-Season Tournament Challenger bracket. Major League Pickleball

The top six seeds receive a bye and are automatically into the quarterfinals. SoCal, Chicago, Florida, and California will have to battle it out in the first round of play. 

(Some of) What to watch for from each team

  • The California Black Bears are at the bottom of the standings after a tough 1-6 start to their season in D.C. They used the first waiver period to add Brandon French and Susannah Barr, though Michelle Esquivel will fill in for her at this event. Though the trip to the nation’s capital didn’t go the way they had planned, the Black Bears did finish it with a 4-0 sweep of Chicago. Perhaps that will give the group a hint of momentum ahead of this tournament.


  • The Chicago Slice are the only team at the Challenger Level that doesn’t have a win, but they’ve only played three matches so far. Two of their losses came in DreamBreakers against the two teams with the most DreamBreakers wins so far this season (Las Vegas and Frisco). Chicago made what is probably the biggest acquisition of the season so far, picking up Megan Fudge during the first waiver period. Fudge is the most consistent title winner on the APP Tour, and the combination of her and Allison Harris should make a strong women’s doubles pairing. In mixed, she and Jack Munro are fresh off a gold medal run this past weekend at APP Newport Beach. Though this team sits near the bottom of the standings, Chicago has the potential to make a deep run this week.


  • In the No. 8 slot sit the SoCal Hard Eights. Like Chicago, this team’s arrow is pointing upwards despite a low ranking. Lange and Manthou earned gold together at APP Newport Beach, and Tereschenko made a run to the semifinals in women’s doubles alongside Allyce Jones at PPA San Clemente. To make things better, the team added Yana Newell during the first waiver period. Newell helped lead SoCal to a Season 2 playoff title in 2023 and took home a women’s doubles title herself alongside Jill Braverman at APP Newport Beach. Chicago and SoCal play each other in the first round, but both of these revamped teams should be dangerous opponents for the rest of the season.


  • The Florida Smash and Miami Pickleball Club come in at the No. 7 and No. 6 slots, respectively, and both teams have a chance to outplay their seeding this week. The Smash added Yates Johnson during the waiver period in place of Pat Smith. Johnson filled in for Smith at MLP Washington D.C. and performed well in mixed doubles, going 3-1 alongside Tammy Emmrich. He should provide an upgrade in that department for the Smash moving forward.


  • Miami is also in a good position to improve after making two roster changes during the waiver period. They first added Bobbi Oshiro for Rianna Valdes. This should be an upgrade in both women’s and mixed doubles. Oshiro and Milan Rane—the other woman on Miami—have played several tournaments together and should be one of the strongest women’s doubles pairings at the Challenger level. Oshiro is also coming off a silver medal in mixed doubles this past weekend at APP Newport Beach, so her confidence should be sky high. Miami also added Noe Khlif to replace Roscoe Bellamy. Khlif is someone who has quickly made a name for himself on the PPA Tour this year and has two quarterfinal appearances under his belt. He should play a solid right side next to Eric Oncins. The former Jr. French National Champion in tennis is less proven in mixed doubles, so his mixed game will be something to watch this week. He will most likely play mixed with Oshiro, as Rane and Oncins boast a 5-2 record together.


  • The Frisco Pandas are in the No. 5 seed. Out of their five victories so far this season, four of them have come by way of a DreamBreaker. Another thing to note about this team is the mixed doubles pairing of Ewa Radzikowska and Stefan Auvergne. They are 6-1 together and have earned a number of clutch victories to send matches to DreamBreakers, which has suited the team well to this point.


  • Frisco will face the Atlanta Bouncers with a spot in the semifinals on the line. Atlanta’s season—though successful so far—has looked completely different from Frisco’s. While Frisco is 4-1 in DreamBreakers, Atlanta is 1-4. Despite that struggle, the Bouncers boast three regulation wins and do not have any regulation losses. One similarity between the two teams, however, is mixed doubles. Just as Frisco has a particularly strong mixed doubles pairing, so too does Atlanta. The Bouncers’ Genie Erokhina and Todd Fought are a perfect 8-0 together this year and have yet to be beaten.


  • The Brooklyn Aces sit in the No. 3 slot. The Aces didn’t make any changes during the waiver period, but they still improved considerably. Before the waiver period began, the Texas Ranchers (a Premier level team) traded the lefty Pablo Tellez to Brooklyn in exchange for Martin Emmrich, another lefty. That move set Texas up to take Quang Duong with the No. 1 waiver pick they received from the Utah Black Diamonds without having to give their other Premier level competitors a chance to pick up Tellez, who should be on a Premier roster. The Columbian is coming off a silver medal in men’s doubles at PPA San Clemente (where he even notched a win over the Johns bros) and should thrive on a Brooklyn team that was already looking strong before landing Tellez.


  • The Bay Area Breakers and Las Vegas Night Owls fill out the bracket in the top two positions and are the only two teams averaging 2.00 standings points per match or more. The Breakers are the No. 2 seeds and are riding their success from MLP Atlanta, where they went 5-1. This week’s Bay Area team, however, features only two members of that squad from Atlanta: Rachel Rettger and Collin Shick. The other two members will be making their MLP debuts: Samantha Parker and Grayson Goldin. Because of this dynamic, it’s tough to predict how the Breakers will do this week, despite being the No. 2 seed.


  • The Night Owls, on the other hand, made no changes after their highly successful season debut in the nation’s capital. They are the only undefeated team at either level in MLP, thanks to a perfect 4-0 record in DreamBreakers. Despite being the top seed in Grand Rapids, Las Vegas will have a tough quarterfinal matchup against either Chicago or SoCal.


Bottom Line

There are countless storylines to keep track of this week, so I’ll keep my prediction short and simple: I think Chicago will beat Miami in the final.

Chicago will have to get through Las Vegas, but they are a much stronger team now with Megan Fudge. The Slice fell in a DreamBreaker the last time these two teams met in the nation’s capital, and I think adding Fudge is enough to push them over the edge and into the final.

I’ll admit that I have a lot of faith in Miami’s recently added players. They also have a tough first round against Brooklyn, which I predict them to win in a DreamBreaker. I think that both Brooklyn and Miami will be too much for the current Bay Area Breakers team, so the winner of their quarterfinal matchup moves on to the finals in my book.